Fiction

2018

‘Red as Water, White as Ruin’ in Mythic Delirium. An expedition journeys to a land devastated by an unknown apocalypse, navigating an impossible curse and an impossible survivor. Secondary-world horror/dark fantasy.

‘The Owls of Juttshatan’. On a cold world of slow-moving terns, a child grows in the shadow of her mother the war hero. She is a creature of peace, raised in quiet among maps and dreams and owls. But she can be more, if she chooses. A space opera novelette of brutal bildungsroman. Prequel to ‘Autodidact’

2017

‘You and I Shall be as Radiant’. Hu Feilin is a survivor of genocide, one of the last of her world. She knows of only one other, her sister Hu Liyan, a child selected by the tyrants for military training. To get Liyan back, Feilin will overcome anything: ancient ghosts, a genocidal army—or her own sister’s wish.

‘After-Swarm’. In the far future, soldiers are sent to fight a proxy war on a distant planet to solve the question: who owns Earth? But with the war resolved, soldiers no longer have a use. Emilia, once valued for her machine affinity, must return to the life she left behind and face a world ordered anew.

‘No Pearls as Blue as These’ in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Bidaten is a bulwark, one of those bred as living weapons to fight horrors from beyond the high, vast walls that keep humanity safe from monsters. Duty is all she knows until her lord brings home a beautiful foreign bride.

‘Fade to Gold’ in Pseudopod (audio reprint). Narrated by Jen Zink.

‘The Universe as Vast as Our Longings’ in The Jewish Mexican Literary Review. In a far future, a country of tyrants conquers a world and takes in its children to raise as willing collaborators. When all you have is nothing, living itself is resistance. 6,200 words.

‘The Sun Shall Lie Across Us Like Gold’ in Clockwork Cairo (ed. Matthew Bright, Twopenny Press). Post-colonial steampunk in 19th century Thailand. Sequel to ‘The Governess and We’. 3,500 words.

‘Parable of the Cocoon’ in Big Echo. When the aliens came it was not to invade, but to uplift humanity for the purposes of an inscrutable war. Human subjects are selected for alien communion, given to perceive time in parallax… or perhaps something else entirely. 5,800 words.

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It’s Binge Live-Action Anime Adaptations Time! Fullmetal Alchemist (2017) and Tokyo Ghoul (2017)

The Fullmetal Alchemist (2017) live action adaptation just dropped worldwide, and because I heard it’s… less bad… than some live action films of anime, I gave it a try. And it’s… less bad… than others. But it’s still really bad. More on that later.

The absolute first thing you’re going to notice is that the wigs in this film are horrendous. The direct seems committed to slapping them on everyone who needs to be blonde but, being Japanese, are obviously not. Ed’s wig is almost exceptionally terrible, though Riza Hawkeye’s doesn’t fare much better, but Ed’s wig in particular is inescapable due to the frequency of close-ups to his face. The second thing you’re going to notice is that Yamada Ryosuke has either been cursed with a truly bad script (pretty likely) or simply cannot act.

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Top Things I Liked From 2017

Now in lazy format!

The absolute topmost is Re:Creators. It’s glorious, gorgeous, very surprising, and also surprisingly lesbian. I’ve raved about it at great, frequent length on twitter. Don’t let the cheery tone and seemingly bland premise at first glance fool you. Yes, the woman in the bulky armor is a lesbian; yes the pink one too; yes so is the girl with the infinite swords. It’s all gay up in here.

I’ve also watched Houseki no Kuni, which is not perfect and is a bit more of an acquired taste–Re:Creators is pretty conventional in comparison–and is animated in a very… particular way. But it’s also quite beautiful, unique, and daring in ways Steven Universe isn’t quite (jokes about Houseki no Kuni being an anime SU aside). I’m looking forward to the rest of it airing.

I’ve written a LOT on NieR: AutomataBy Installing NieR: Automata, You Have Agreed to Heartbreak and Love in the Time of (NieR:)Automata. It is just so good and IMO deserves all its accolades, and it’d be nice if it sold even more than it already does (it still doesn’t perform as well as more mainstream AAA titles, despite the fame). Having said that, Fate/Extella is also really surprising. It’s not good, but it’s just the thing if you want a lot of lesbian romancing–three distinct routes, three different romances, all lesbian all the time–played out in a beautifully over-the-top anime way.

My Stuff

I have a new book out. If you follow me on twitter you’re already sick of hearing about it, but, well.

So there. People have said rather nice things about it. Barnes and Noble SFF Blog:

This ornate novella from the John W. Campbell Award nominee drips with lurid fairytale magic. The once-tropical Southeast Asia-inspired city-state of Sirapirat has been frozen in ice ever since the arrival of the Winter Queen, who seeks the shards of a magical broken mirror that will grant her every wish. Those pierced by the shards gain great strength, but are at risk of corruption. Over years, a girl named Nuawa, who has one of the winterglass splinters lodged in her heart, has prepared to strike back against the queen and free her people—but her well-honed plans are shattered when she falls in love with Lussadh, the queen’s greatest general and a traitor to the people of Sirapirat. Sriduangkaew’s poetic prose fairly sings, and this retelling of the Snow Queen legend is a dark delight.

Skiffy and Fanty:

Benjanun Sriduangkaew creates a fascinating and very loose retelling of The Snow Queen folktale with Winterglass, a high fantasy novella that infuses steampunk technology and an interesting form of magic.  With gorgeous prose and a refreshing perspective on fantasy in general, Sriduangkaew’s unique take on a classic tale creates a captivating narrative with twists, turns, and deadly secrets.  Sroduangkaew’s own-voices retelling features an entirely POC cast and lots of queer rep, set in Southeast Asia.  It’s a relatively quick read, and I spent a very enjoyable afternoon in the world of ice and intrigue.

I should probably have more to say about the book and its launch but it has been incredible and incredibly unreal! It’s a book I am very proud of, and it’s good to write long-form once in a while; there’s something very luxurious about having this much room and having a consistent world to work with.

Short fiction wise, my two highlights of the year were these stories. ‘The Universe as Vast as Our Longings’ in The Jewish Mexican Literary Review is a story about resistance through survival, and it’s also about interracial adoption. ‘No Pearls as Blue as These’ in Beneath Ceaseless Skies is secondary-world fantasy that’s taken some things from Attack on Titan, some things from Claymore. I expect you’d be able to recognize the inspiration if you’re familiar with both.

WINTERGLASS blog tour and interviews

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On CK Oliver’s blog, I write on queer tragedy tropes, trauma porn, and the decisions I made to not be lazy and exploitative with Winterglass.

Unless you live under a rock, you have probably heard that in Chechnya, they’re rounding up gay people and putting them in concentration camps. Recently it came out that gay singer Zelimkhan Bakaev has, most likely, been tortured to death in such a camp.

This is the reality for queer people; this is happening in the real world. But in the popular imagination, of television shows and epic fantasy and science fiction, such an event is just another trope to tug at the heartstrings of and thrill the cisgender, heterosexual audience. It’s just another trope to make cisgender, heterosexual creators feel good and socially aware; it’s just another trope to make them feel radical, daring. It’s just another trope. Here’s a queer character, she lives under mortal terror of being rounded up, stuck in a concentration camp, or — as in the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, in a scene aired to critical acclaim— watching her lover hanged and then being genitally mutilated. This, popular media wants to tell you, is what it means to be queer: constantly terrified, miserable, brutalized, sexually assaulted and then finally dead.

Don’t forget to check out CK Oliver’s Daybreak Rising!

Ana Mardoll was very kind and hosted my post, Reverse-Engineering Eternity: The Puzzle of the Snow Queen where I went into decisions I made with a fairytale retelling and on the themes of the innocent, pure girl pitted against a seductive ice queen.

It’s a very Christian story (Gerda literally dispels the Snow Queen’s enchantments with Christian prayers). The Finnish woman doesn’t remark on her endurance or strength: it is Gerda’s purity alone that she praises, and Gerda’s purity alone that — she asserts—compels and charms all into serving Gerda. Vinge has an interesting take on this, where her Gerda figure Moon Dawntreader does win through kindness and empathy rather than purity, and there’s mileage to be had from stories where kindness and empathy are the guiding principles (Steven Universe, Puella Magi Madoka Magica). But so often what happens is that writers position Gerda as the virgin, the queen as the whore, the way it happens in any story where a powerful woman is pitted against a younger, naiver one: just look at Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Disney’s own take on Snow White (1937) or Sleeping Beauty (1950) or The Little Mermaid (1989).

Ana has written urban fantasy, Poison Kiss, that’s focused on an all-queer cast.

At The Future Fire, I consider how Nasuverse reconfigures Arthuriana into its own separate canon, dislocated from Britishness: Fairytales Told Twice, and the Idylls of the King.

This more than anything is what keeps me interested: that a team of writers (ever-expanding) would take a body of legend that is considered quintessentially English and then discards its Englishness entirely. It’s not something that white, western writers do — even limp retellings like Avalon High cleave to British origins, with the protagonists’ parents as professors of Arthuriana studies. Several darker-and-grittier fantasy makes a point of distinguishing the various English/British identities, down to the regional distinction between Caledonian and Saxon and Scottish or what have you, all distinctions that Nasuverse never even thinks about because to Japanese writers, all white Britons are more or less the same, belonging to a single amorphous culture (so much so that Lancelot being French is beside the point, he’s lumped in with the rest of the Round Table).

The Future Fire also very kindly interviewed me.

My friend J. Moufawad-Paul graciously hosted me for a guest post: Narratives of Exclusion.

(He’s the author of Continuity and Rupture, among other things, which makes socialist philosophy quite accessible–quite crucial, I think–and is really incisive to boot.)

If you read Winterglass, you may — or may not, depending — notice that nobody in it is white. Not even the Winter Queen. Or, more accurately, particularly not the Winter Queen.

The idea of the wintry monarch (all their fairy-queen variants) is popularly linked with western cultures (though far from unique to them), and The Snow Queen itself was written by a Danish author. The fear of a winter that never ends is European. And it is a story about colonization, a land taken over by a climate for which it was never built, a killing climate. The Winter Queen could have been white — most tranformative iterations of her are — but that would have necessitated that I wrote Winterglass around whiteness. Nuawa and Lussadh would exist in opposition and in relation to that whiteness.

I got interviewed! The Unpublishables is an Asian pop culture website and I got a super neat set of questions to answer: on Winterglass, writing while Asian/of color, and more.

Many POC writers, including our contributors, have felt the pressure by agents, editors, and publishers to write about our cultures in a way that fits in with the larger Western idea of diversity (eg. themes like the struggle between the “restrictive, traditional East” and the “free, modern West”, exotic elements, or whitewashed characters). Do you have any suggestions or advice about that?

I once recommended my Hong Kong urban fantasy, Scale-Bright, to a white reader. He asked ‘Is there kungfu in it?’ It was an alarming reminder that most white people can communicate with POC only through stereotypes.

Next, B. R. Sanders very kindly hosted my post, The Rightful King on Her Rightful Throne, where I talked about revolution, lineage, and the romance of the ‘good’ monarch.

But, because this is fiction (and the package is so attractive), I still find myself gravitating toward the glamour of it, to the romantic but destructively flawed ideal held by Urobuchi’s character that kingship is a service. We come to why one of Winterglass’ protagonists General Lussadh al-Kattan used to be a prince.

(Their book Ariah I found very good and they have exceptional finesse with characterization. I recently picked up their new book, Extraction, which I expect I’ll quite enjoy.)

Links round-up: Sep 2017

What Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice gets wrong about mental illness

The first minute of Senua’s Sacrifice is an odd mixture of sincerity, preciousness and confusion. It’s Grimdark 2.0, the well-meaning grimdark with a diversity and inclusion initiative.

But it left me holding a bag full of questions. I couldn’t tell if I was being pandered to, postured at or just being used. I didn’t know who this game was for. Perhaps I should have listened to the warning and begged Sony for a refund, citing “I’m severely mentally ill, and the game says I probably shouldn’t play.” I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that cynicism crept through me like Senua’s black rot. Despite it all, I have never wanted to be proved wrong by a game more than I have with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

My Absolute Misogyny

Reviewers described the novel as “unflinching,” “cathartic,” “not exploitative,” and a “masterpiece.” Of course, having a mother who’s a famous Stanford professor and writer probably greased the skids for the reception of Gabriel Tallent’s debut novel. Books like these somehow manage to achieve a critical mass that critics dare not disagree with. Stephen King says it is good, ergo it must be good, and if you have a differing opinion, you clearly don’t understand the author’s work (though Roxane Gay wrote a sharp indictment.)

[…]

Using scenes of escalating brutality and grotesquerie may be a popular literary device, but it serves, in a warped and tormented way, to glorify this violence. Books like this become “must reads,” even for people who find them extremely traumatic, while the amazing women exploring themes of child sexual assault, molestation, incest, and sexual violence are pushed to the sidelines.

These two articles are pretty good at describing the same phenomenon–that of presenting fiction with a marginalized character, nominally protagonists, but who exist actually to titillate a privileged gaze: a sexual assault victim being repeatedly brutalized, a mentally ill woman warrior being traumatized over and over. Not so much stories about them as stories about their suffering, shown as tragedy porn: Grimdark 2.0 indeed.

It also reminds me of this concerning the Lara Croft reboot.

“The ability to see her as a human is even more enticing to me than the more sexualized version of yesteryear,” he said. “She literally goes from zero to hero… we’re sort of building her up and just when she gets confident, we break her down again.”

In the new Tomb Raider, Lara Croft will suffer. Her best friend will be kidnapped. She’ll get taken prisoner by island scavengers. And then, Rosenberg says, those scavengers will try to rape her.

“She is literally turned into a cornered animal,” Rosenberg said. “It’s a huge step in her evolution: she’s forced to either fight back or die.”

Dear White Women: Why We Need to Stop Crying When POC Call Us Out

Being called out used to trigger my deepest fears of abandonment and oh boy, did I cry. Crying also shielded me from the truth because it relieved the cognitive dissonance I lived with day in and day out. My growing consciousness detected the pervasiveness of abuse culture, it wanted to break free of it. But in order to escape I had to admit that I had warped and abused myself, that I had been abused by those I loved and whom I thought loved me, as well as admitting that I was perpetuating the same abuse onto others. I would have to admit that I myself had abused! Those truths were too awful and painful to accept. My struggle to deny the truth whilst coping with my own wounds created unbearable levels of stress in my brain and in my body, so I cried.

I’m a white woman. I know us, understand us and love us. I have perfected the fawning survival mechanism to the detriment of any other. At first I did it unconsciously in order to survive–especially because good little white girls didn’t fight if they want to be loved, and I couldn’t run away. It didn’t even occur to me that I was growing up within an abusive structure, it was my ‘normal’. I was one of the lucky ones and for that I was told to be grateful.

Being Labeled A ‘Bad Survivor’ Showed Me That Callout Culture Needs To Change

A few weeks later, the poster of this callout messaged me with a plot to cause physical harm to my assailant, and condemned me when I told them I was not at all OK with this. They told me that I was being unfair to them by burdening them with my refusal to allow violence to be done. It was through my refusal to condone violence against my assailant that I came to feel like a pariah in my own town. I was given cold stares when I was seen in public and made to feel unwelcome at local events.

The pushback I received — all for being a “bad survivor” — was ultimately one of the major factors that contributed to me deciding to move away. In the end, I came to be much more traumatized by the way the so-called radical queer community — with all their rhetoric about supporting survivors — treated me for how I chose to be a survivor than I ever was from my actual assault.

Public Forgiveness: The Crucial Missing Step To Making Call Out Culture Non-Toxic

We all know that one person who you and your friends no longer ask about, a persona non grata within social justice.

For the purposes of this article, let’s refer to her as G. She’s just one of the many people who have been excommunicated from social justice activism by way of social media call outs.

For G, whose name has been withheld, the call outs never end. G said in an interview: “The intent of my call out is very explicitly to compel to kill myself. I didn’t make a mistake, I don’t need training, I don’t need mediation, I am a monster.”

‘I made my protagonist bi because I wanted to add a bit of flavor’

Another day, another Powerful Ally lost to the fire of criticism from the minorities they profess to champion. As one does, I came across a straight man who was complaining that he feared that, having made the protagonist of his nonexistent fantasy novel bisexual, the fact would ‘bite him in the ass’.

Hmm, interesting. I proceeded to ask him if he was queer. What happened next will shock you!

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WINTERGLASS cover reveal!

winterglass_cover

The art is by Anna Dittman, the design by Mikio Murakami. I’m way beyond chuffed. 

(New to the book? Here’s what it’s about.)

The city-state Sirapirat once knew only warmth and monsoon. When the Winter Queen conquered it, she remade the land in her image, turning Sirapirat into a country of snow and unending frost. But an empire is not her only goal. In secret, she seeks the fragments of a mirror whose power will grant her deepest desire.

At her right hand is General Lussadh, who bears a mirror shard in her heart, as loyal to winter as she is plagued by her past as a traitor to her country. Tasked with locating other glass-bearers, she finds one in Nuawa, an insurgent who’s forged herself into a weapon that will strike down the queen.

To earn her place in the queen’s army, Nuawa must enter a deadly tournament where the losers’ souls are given in service to winter. To free Sirapirat, she is prepared to make sacrifices: those she loves, herself, and the complicated bond slowly forming between her and Lussadh.

If the splinter of glass in Nuawa’s heart doesn’t destroy her first.

One of the most important things for me was that the cover absolutely must feature an East Asian woman, which makes the process… tricky. Most art of East Asian women is a fetishistic nightmare, racist caricatures, or stereotypical (dragons, kimonos or what have you). The state of representing East Asian women is rather specific, and specifically awful. The majority of fantasy art of East Asian women is also, inevitably, in traditional getups (kimonos, hanfu, etc) which don’t at all suit Winterglass (it is, after all, not set in the fantasy equivalent of either China or Japan). That’s when it’s not women in skimpy ‘Chinese-inspired’ outfits with boob windows ala Jade Empire.

Looking for ‘inspiration’ or ‘mood board’ images I came across these promotion shots of the Chinese fantasy drama (incredibly named) Ice Fantasy.

Cool, but not quite what I’m looking for. The girl in the first is, well, too soft for lack of a better word. I wanted something icier, more aloof. Still, they looked nice and I set them aside in the ‘this is the sort of thing I’m looking for’ folder.

I’ve always liked Anna Dittman’s work: her East Asian women are beautifully painted and dignified. These two were favorites, Bauhinia and Lantana. The piece we used for the cover of Winterglass is just the right kind of icy and aloof, I felt, and perfect for the mood I want to convey. Mikio Murakami’s work on the title graphic pulls the entire cover together, I think, and it’s basically flawless.

title

The book should be up for pre-order soon and is slated for December release.

Links round-up: Aug 2017

I’m getting back into the habit of rounding up links to things I find interesting. Probably this will be done irregularly, but monthly seems like a safe bet for now. We’ll see. If you follow me on twitter, chances are good you’d find these interesting reads too.

Unlearning the myth of American innocence

I know why this came as a shock to me then, at the age of 22, and it wasn’t necessarily because he said I was sick, though that was part of it. It was because he kept calling me that thing: “white American”. In my reaction I justified his accusation. I knew I was white, and I knew I was American, but it was not what I understood to be my identity. For me, self-definition was about gender, personality, religion, education, dreams. I only thought about finding myself, becoming myself, discovering myself – and this, I hadn’t known, was the most white American thing of all.

I still did not think about my place in the larger world, or that perhaps an entire history – the history of white Americans – had something to do with who I was. My lack of consciousness allowed me to believe I was innocent, or that white American was not an identity like Muslim or Turk.

Did This Book Buy Its Way Onto The New York Times Bestseller List?

Handbook For Mortals by Lani Sarem is the debut novel from the publishing arm of website GeekNation. The site announced this news only last week, through a press release that can be read on places like The Hollywood Reporter, not a site known for extensive YA coverage. Sarem has an IMDb page with some very minor acting roles, several of which are uncredited, but details on the book are scanter to find. Googling it leads to several other books with the same title, but most of the coverage for it is press release based. There’s little real excitement or details on it coming from the YA blogging world, which is a mighty community who are not quiet about the things they’re passionate about (believe me, first hand experience here).

YA writer and publisher Phil Stamper raised the alarm bells on this novel’s sudden success through a series of tweets, noting GeekNation’s own low traffic, the inability to even buy it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and its out-of-nowhere relevance.

The Sugarcoated Language Of White Fragility

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about how terms like “white privilege,” “inclusion” and “unconscious bias” all sound just… too nice. Don’t they seem a little on the pleasant side for words used to address a system of racist oppression? It reminds me of how, in Minnesota in January, the meteorologists will say it’s going to be a “cool evening” as they stand in front of a map showing temperatures that will literally freeze your nostrils together when you take a breath.

Something’s definitely up.

I’m reminded of how, in the novel 1984, the creepy futuristic government acts as if it’s “Opposite Day” all the time, using the Ministries of Love, Peace, Plenty and Truth to handle fear, war, rationing, and propaganda. The deliberate distortion of words is called doublespeak and we actually see it frequently in real-life politics (for example, the Clear Skies Act makes it easier to pollute the air and “enhanced interrogation“ means old-fashioned torture). Words are powerful.

I Hate Your “Curvy Wife” Guy Jokes

I’ve been watching people dunk on Curvy Wife guy for twenty-four straight hours and it’s been bothering me the whole time. Not because I feel like he needs to be defended, because I don’t. He’s just another guy who likes a woman who has just enough fat in just the right places. I don’t really feel the need to defend his wife as an individual, because the meanness hasn’t precisely been targeted at her, either. All in all, I sat for a while watching people tweet, and retweet, and joke about it, and felt a little hole in the pit of my stomach that never feels good, that feels like an old well full of stagnant, poison water.

Righteous Callings: Being Good, Leftist Orthodoxy, and the Social Justice Crisis of Faith

· Bullying and Call-Outs: A lot of public debate has already been had about the benefits and drawbacks of call-out culture in activism, so I won’t go too deeply into it. Suffice it to say, a culture in which the majority of political education is done through public shaming neither all that socially transformative nor psychologically healthy. Call-out culture, in my experience, can also spin into dynamics of punishment through bullying and intimidation, ie doxing, online harassment, etc.

· Celebrityism and Mob Mentality: In the absence of formal leaders, social justice culture has built a system of micro-celebrities (and in a few cases, not-so-micro-celebrities) from which to take inspiration and direction: Artists, academics, prolific users of social media, public speakers and charismatic organizers, for the most part — including a certain essay-writing, spoken word-performing, East Asian transsexual. Such individuals occupy a place of high respect among their followers, as well as disproportionate access to the development of political opinion in the movement — their Tweets and status posts, writings and videos, are liked, reblogged, and shared extensively as a part of the performance of wokeness in activist theatre. Their names and quotes are invoked as a part of the gospel of social justice holy texts. They are lionized as living at the cutting edge of activist thought (though it should be noted that some such mini-celebs are only tangentially or not at all connected to actual grassroots activism work), and they are pedestalized as living examples of activist purity — of the righteous calling of our movement. In the United States, there is an entire small industry of social justice celebrities who make their living on the speaking/performing tour circuit, funded mostly by student groups with access to college and university funding departments.